Just like a plumber or carpenter, as riders we need a tool box to help us on the job. Do you have enough tools in your tool box? Do you know exactly what they do and can you find them blind?
Any instructor’s job is to teach you the art of the trade, which includes knowing what tools to use. Similarly, in learning an instrument, you need to practice endless scales so that you can find each note without having to think about it. When you are putting the notes together to play a piece of music, you do not have time to look the proper note.
It is exactly the same with riding horses. You have to learn all the tools (aids), their names, and what they do. That is your instructor’s job. How you place them in your tool box is your job. If you take a few different people and give them a set of tools (hammer, nails, screwdriver, wrench, etc.) and have them arrange them in a tool box, each one would be organized a little differently to suit the person’s needs.
It is the same in riding; you need to place the tools into your mental tool box to suit your needs and the way your mind works. When you are learning the tools, you probably need an inventory and description of what each one of one does, to make sure that you understand and go to the correct tool for the job at hand. For instance, if you want to screw in a straight screw with a Phillips screw driver, you will have a hard time making it work. In riding, the same thing applies. If you are trying to bend your horse around your inside leg, but it accidentally and unbeknownst to you has slipped too far back, you are now addressing a totally different body part of the horse and he will not be able to give you the right answer.
Intellectually understanding and knowing your tools by heart is crucial to being able to use the correct tool at the right time and in the right amount, (timing and feeling). Eventually, you want to get to the place where you no longer have to think about it, but automatically reach for the proper tool prompted by what you are feeling at that moment – and do so in the right amount to keep the communication with your horse going.
What makes riding so much more difficult than anything else is the that the horse has its own mind, balance, and athletic ability, as well as the fact that they are flight animals. So many tools come into play in the correct sequence in every dialogue you have with the horse, whether working on the ground or in the saddle. You have to tune into your horse with empathy and compassion and your mind has to direct eight limbs – both of your arms and legs in order to move the horses four legs where you want them to go. That’s a lot of movement to control.
You must understand that there is no way you can physically execute anything with your horse that you cannot perceive in your mind. Only through complete understanding of your mental tool box and thousands of proper repetitions will you be able to innately go to the right tool at the right time. And that is the most amazing feeling – when you and your horse are on the same page.